All the revelations of sexual abuse coming out recently are not just about sex, but about work and power. In classifying them primarily as sexual assaults, we may be making a crucial category error. They are not just about sexual harm to women’s bodies and well-being, but about professional harm to our ability to work, to hold power, and to take our place in the public sphere. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle: when women don’t hold powerful position, women down the chain are vulnerable to being exploited and excluded from power, leaving yet another generation of women vulnerable.
We got to where we are because men have been afforded a disproportionate share of power. That leaves women dependent on those men — for economic security, for work, for approval, for any share of power they might aspire to. Many of the women who have told their stories have explained that they did not do so before because they feared for their jobs. When women did complain, many were told that putting up with these behaviors was just part of working for the powerful men in question … to cross powerful men is to jeopardize not just an individual job in an individual office; it’s to risk far broader professional harm within whole professions where men hold sway, to cut yourself off from future opportunity.
…the sexual harm is not always at the heart of a gendered power imbalance, and is not always about the sexualized act itself. … Rather, it’s about the cruel reminder that these are still the terms on which we are valued, by our colleagues, our bosses, sometimes our competitors, the men we tricked ourselves into thinking might see us as smart, formidable colleagues or rivals, not as the kinds of objects they can just grab and grope and degrade without consequence. It’s not that we’re horrified like some Victorian damsel; it’s that we’re horrified like a woman in 2017 who briefly believed she was equal to her male peers but has just been reminded that she is not, who has suddenly had her comparative powerlessness revealed to her.
You know how guns rights advocates insist that “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” and that has a certain ring to it but also sounds like total hogwash because its seems pretty hard to kill someone with your bare hands but really easy to just pull a trigger. Well, here’s a new slogan backed by research: “Inequality kills people. With guns.” Inequality predicts homicides rates better than any other variable.
According to the World Bank, a simple measure of inequality predicts about half of the variance in murder rates between American states and between countries around the world. When inequality is high and strips large numbers of men of the usual markers of status – like a good job and the ability to support a family – matters of respect and disrespect loom disproportionately.
A little lighter reading: feeling the need to be productive? Just go back to bed. Few atrocities have been committed by people lying in bed.
As the former journalist in the room, I’ve been chewing plenty the last two weeks on Neiman Lab’s “Predictions for Journalism 2018” series, and found plenty of food for thought. Two in particular that stood out were Tanzina Vega’s call for media outlets to confront their own institutional racism. As Tanzina notes, American newsrooms are 84 percent white and overwhelmingly male.
In a nation that’s quickly diversifying, that’s problematic.
The other piece I enjoyed was co-written by Evergrey co-founder Monica Guzman (Side note: no, we are not related, though when I worked at the Seattle Times, I was asked such questions many times to the point it became a running joke between my friend Monica and I). She and Jennifer Brandell ponder the newsroom of the future and how it needs to better cater to diversifying audiences, whom media outlets need to recognize “as insightful, curious people whose questions result in original, smart, top-performing stories, that end up breaking news and winning prestigious awards.”
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Both pieces struck a nerve with me because of its themes of diversity and inclusion (I’m the son of Mexican immigrants and worked in plenty of newsrooms over the previous 18-plus years). Improving diversity in media should be a given, but it remains a daunting task because the roadblocks to change are so deeply entrenched. And it makes for a diminished product, as Tanzina points out:
One of the biggest mistakes the media punditry made about the 2016 election was underestimating the power of racist rhetoric in the campaign. There was a disconnect between what journalists of color were seeing and what white reporters were seeing, what white audiences were consuming versus what black and brown audiences were reading.
I was disappointed but not surprised by what happened, and this piece by Brando Simeo Starkey in The Undefeated captured most of how I felt about this very public disagreement. There’s power in numbers, especially when the principals are fully engaged, and getting sidetracked like they have been does not allow for either man to be at his best. But we’ve seen this movie before with West, as Michael Eric Dyson pointed out in this 2015 piece (hat tip to my colleague Tarika Powell for sending it to me so I could revisit it this week).
John Abbotts is a former Sightline research consultant who occasionally submits material for Weekend Reading and other posts.